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r4e

The Difficulty of Selecting U/W Video Camera Gear

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This is a summary of thoughts I went through last year in trying to select my next u/w video gear.

Ten years ago my first video camera was a Sony MC50E in an Aquatica housing. I really liked the setting for its small size. However, I was bothered by the max videorate of 28 mb/s, 8-bit video with its limitations for smooth color grades of the background, noise, autofocus hunting and finding the right amount of image stabilization. Especially I was missing the full frame look and Canon colors. 

Then came Canon 5D Mark II which caused a lot of turmoil on the video front and eventually 5D Mark III. I actually made a side track to 1D IV, but I soon realized that its crop factor did not meet my wide angle requirements. An expensive side step. I settled on the 5D Mark III. It had better sensitivity, the video was better than earlier, but still 8 bit, sensitivity was better and the colors were definitely better. However, no image stabilization. I continued to shoot mainly u/w landscape video, with only the occasional stills. During recent years I have tackled major 3D photogrammetry projects in poor visibility and have even sacrificed proper color balance for more pressing matters of repeatabiility of shots from day to day or month to month.

I shoot mainly at 16mm, but for some scenery I change to 18-22mm in order to get a more pleasing perspective.

However, with the advance of 4K and my desire to be able to create beautiful memories of some the unique sceneries I have visited, I began searching for an upgrade with the following wish list: 

  1. good optics - with my six L series lenses I had a bias towards Canon, but, I was willing to consider alternatives at a cost
  2. minimum 10 bit, 4-2-2 and hopefully more dynamic range, a wish of 14?
  3. more sensitivity - I shoot large caves, mines and deep wrecks - there is never enough light - eventhough I have lights with a total of 6 digits in lumens
  4. 4K and FullHD. 
  5. option for slow motion
  6. preroll!
  7. video compatible with Edius or Davinci Resolve

I had been keeping an eye on the Canon cinema cameras. However, the total cost of a Cx00 series camera together with an u/w housing was out of reach for me. I did notice Canon 1DC, but I was not happy about the crop factor. Early last year I did also notice Canon 1DXIII. It did appeal in many ways, but there were also rumours about a forthcoming mirrorless Canon camera...

I seriously considered the GH5/GH5s for its video capabilities eventhough it already is a bit old. I did also consider both of the Black Magic pocket cinema cameras, 4K and 6K. The biggest drawback was the crop factor and also the notion that many of the settings (e.g. resolution) would require using the touch screen - impossible underwater.

But, I then noticed Z-Cam and that Nauticam would have a housing for it. Z-Cam appeared very innovative. Their E2 base model seemed to tick most of the items on my wish list. Actually it was one of the very few video cameras with a preroll feature. I also liked the idea of an ethernet connection on the camera allowing remote control and transfer of video. The base model seemed to share the same sensor as Panasonic. I noticed that you could set the Kelvins upto 30K. A drawback was that one would need a separate monitor with its separate housing. It took a while for Nauticam to get out the first housing model for E2. Meanwhile Z Cam had already announced the F6 model which would allow full frame Canon glass. Another wait for the right housing as the F6 model would not fit the first housing.

Then came the release of Canon R5. A lot of excitement of 8K video and high quality 4K video. But before I put my order in, came the first news about over heating issues. I was sure this would be fixed in a firmware patch. But no, the patch made just slight improvements. Since half of my u/w video recording sessions have been almost continuous shooting of 70-80 minutes (as limited by the batteries of my 5D III and the lights), I would not consider any shorter shooting time. And having to stop shooting even for a minute was definitely a show stopper. Having to circumvent the overheating issue by having to shoot 4K with pixel binning for almost all of my shots just did not make any sense.

The R5 overheating issue was a wakening call also concerning Z Cam. I realized that in addition to even getting hold of a F6 camera, there was the possibility of needing to send it back for repairs - all the way to China! In fb there were the regular occasional messages of malfunctioning units until Z Cam began prevalidating all posts under their fb page. For an underwater shooter, the downside of a failed purchase might/would be the total price of all gear, including two housings, one for the camera, one for a separate monitor.

Then Sony began making noises with its very long waited A7SIII. A seriously good video camera with (seemingly) dual ISO, the latter being 16000! A slight drawback that best quality video did require an external recorder. For a topside shooter that is just around 600€, but for underwater use it is quadruple that when you include the housing. In December I was seeking for any shop that would have the A7SIII in stock so that I could write the purchase off as expenses for fiscal year 2020 - a 30% tax savings to me. Unfortunately nobody had one in stock.

The only "affordable" camera ticking almost all the wish list boxes, and in stock, was the Canon 1DXIII. I then spent a night and day reading everything about it, and read the entire manual (almost 1000 pages) and all the white papers. I realized that eventhough my criteria was video first, I did also appreciate the stills capabilities, e.g. for shooting u/w waves crashing into rocks etc. I purchased the 1DXIII with the tax savings and without needing to invest into Sony glass.

All the video modes on the 1DXIII are full frame, some with an option for cropping. I did not quite achieve my wish of a DR of 14, but the raw video gives high enough quality for those rare situations when everything is perfect in the u/w scenery. Then and only then, I would shoot 5.5K raw. Normally I'll be happy with 4K 10bit 4-2-2, and, in poor conditions I might consider less - that's why I think it is essential that you can select the video resolution underwater - not possible in BM. I appreciate the possibility to shoot everything internally and the ability to use the back screen for monitoring purposes. The video focusing and exposure aids are good enough though a bit lacking in a videophile sense. When size and conditions permit, I plan to use a Ninja V as a video monitor. Additionally, it gives the option to record Prores. Even with the best cable, the connection between 1DXIII and Ninja V is not good enough for glitchless 4K50/60. But 4K25 works fine. I yet have to try Gerald Undone's tip of externally HD recording subsampled 4K.

Interestingly, the 1DXIII does have an ethernet connection allowing remote control. The Canon software does have some installation quirks, but, I was finally able to remote control the camera. The next item on my shopping list is an u/w cable for this...

I already purchased a 28mm lense with the idea of shooting via WACP. Since this is not exactly rectilinear, it will be interesting to see if it still is usable for 3D photogrammetry work. If not, plan B is my 16-35mm lense behind a regular dome. 

Richard

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Posted (edited)

At half of your post I was suggesting you a Pana S5 then I read you already pulled the trigger for a 1DXIII.

:drink:

 

Edit: I thought an housing for the S5 was already out. I was wrong.

Edited by Davide DB

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Thanks Davide, I first thought you meant S1H. S5 is still quite fresh without a housing.

I did look into the S1H. However several reviews mentioned problems with autofocusing. Perhaps I was most bothered by the relatively low bitrate of 200 Mbps at 6K. Effectively LESS than my old MC50E I began with, if you scale the bitrate with the resolution. I just could not understand the reasoning that the S1H bitrate at 6K was half of its bitrate at 4K, i.e.400Mbps. Somehow this sounded like an internal or intentional limitation despite otherwise good video features.

I do appreciate the availability of lower bit rates for saving media space. But there still should available an option for best possible quality. Ok, the 1DXIII takes this to an extreme maxing at 2600 mbps and giving various options of 120/230/470/940 mbps for 4K.

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2 hours ago, r4e said:

Thanks Davide, I first thought you meant S1H. S5 is still quite fresh without a housing.

I did look into the S1H. However several reviews mentioned problems with autofocusing. Perhaps I was most bothered by the relatively low bitrate of 200 Mbps at 6K. Effectively LESS than my old MC50E I began with, if you scale the bitrate with the resolution. I just could not understand the reasoning that the S1H bitrate at 6K was half of its bitrate at 4K, i.e.400Mbps. Somehow this sounded like an internal or intentional limitation despite otherwise good video features.

I do appreciate the availability of lower bit rates for saving media space. But there still should available an option for best possible quality. Ok, the 1DXIII takes this to an extreme maxing at 2600 mbps and giving various options of 120/230/470/940 mbps for 4K.

I have been recently testing ProRes RAW on the Panasonic range. My conclusion is that is not worth it. The primary issue is that the camera only works with a set white balance in RAW. Once you need to do that then there is no longer a benefit in raw in fact the workflow is more time consuming.

Other aspects lack of lens corrections etc.

How does canon manage those?

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@r4e

Thanks for your detailed write up. It is very interesting.

A lot of us have been through this. I am still stuck on which way to jump. Interesting info on the Zcam. Not heard that before. I am gravitating back towards the BM range to be honest. Seems to be a safe bet. Although the 1D Mk III sounds interesting as well. I have never considered that before. I am very attracted to the idea of an ethernet cable to the surface and BM do not give me that. Canon is well known for its decent colour and ability to WB at depth. Hmmmm.....another rabbit hole to go down for me. So another week ahead lost to research!

Thanks for the heads up on the Canon !

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A small update: I just noticed that the Ninja V 10.61 firmware has a fix "to improve signal locking from certain cameras...Use with Z Cam...Use with the Canon EOS -1DX Mark III on 4Kp50 and 60 video".

Atomos also added a nice new feature: time lapse recording to ProRes, DNx and ProRes RAW. This included options for capture intervals and total duration. This is a welcome feature to me, because the 1DXIII itself does not have this feature.

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Hello.
Finally after thinking about all the possibilities between the ZCam f6 and the Blacmagic pocket 6k 
I have finally decided on the Blacmagic.
My reasons if someone is interested in evaluating this decision:
I liked the Zcam better as a camera, but thinking that you have to put a separate monitor with its 
corresponding underwater housing and connection cables, they made me think that it is a more bulky 
device and with more risks of something going wrong. The blacmagic has a large screen included in 
the Nauticam and can record to an internal hard drive. If I am in a country for some filming or 
a shoot that has to be done at a specific time and the Zcam or the atomos have a problem, 
this would be very difficult to solve, since the Zcam would have to be sent to China or 
the atomos to an official service. On the other hand, Blacmagic usually has more network 
of official services for its repair and if time is short and filming cannot wait, it will always 
be possible in almost any country to buy a pocket 6k urgently.

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